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Tajikistan regime arrests activists

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The voices of Pamiri ethnic groups in Tajikistan reduced since May as the regime continues to stop freedom of speech in the Central Asian country by imprisoning the activists and their relatives.

Komyor Mirzoev, a Tajik blogger from the Central Asian nation’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), whom Moscow police released from custody after the arrest on Sept. 5, has reportedly been abducted and taken to Dushanbe, where he is currently under arrest, his relatives said. His relatives said that on Sept. 11, Tajik special agents had abducted the blogger and forcibly took him to Tajikistan’s capital.

Mirzoev was wanted in Tajikistan on charge of taking part in the activities of a criminal group. If convicted, the blogger could face up to 12 years in prison. Mirzoev’s blogs have been critical of Tajikistan government and mostly focused on developments in his native GBAO.

Also in September, the relatives of Mamadbek Atobekov, a GBAO native, claimed that the activist had been detained in Moscow. Meanwhile, in the previous month, another Tajik blogger from the GBAO, Maqsud Ghayosov, was arrested in Moscow.

Tajik authorities have also arrested a relative of jailed activist Oraz Vazirbekov on suspicion of financially supporting protests in the GBAO. Vazirbekov’s relatives said that the activist’s son-in-law Tohir Abdolbekov had been arrested last week. They added that Abdolbekov had nothing to do with the protests and had not played any financial role in them. A regional official confirmed that Abdolbekov had been arrested but refused to give further details.

Oraz Vazirbekov and his brother, Ramzi Vazirbekov, were sentenced to 16 years and 13 years in prison, respectively, on charges of calling for the change of the constitutional orders and being members of an extremist group.

The Pamir Daily News website, which monitors development in the GBAO, says at least 20 of the region’s natives have been detained in Moscow and forcibly brought to Tajikistan in the last six months. Relatives and rights defenders say that the arrests in Moscow were most likely linked to mass protest in the GBAO that led to deadly crackdown on protesters in May.

At least 25 people were killed in May by security forces in Tajikistan during a protest in the GBAO, where the Tajik regime has targeted the Pamiri ethnic minority. Conflict between the central government and the Pamiri has continued for decades, with the cultural and linguistic minority ethnic group suffering human rights abuses, as well as discrimination over jobs and housing.

Pamiri ethnic groups essentially differ from Tajiks. There are several dialects of the Pamir language and almost all Pamiri people adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. However, Pamiri people are not strong believers and in particular, there are no Islamic radicals among them. The Pamiris have close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan.

During the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997, thousands of Pamiris were killed javascript: void(0)in what some human rights activists have described as “ethnic cleansing”. In 2012, during clashes seen by many in GBAO as an attempt by the Tajik government to bring the autonomous region under its full control, at least 40 civilians were killed.

Viola von Cramon, a member of the European parliament with an interest in the region, said in February that the EU was considering an inquiry. These events need to be urgently investigated and everyone who overstepped their authority needs to be prosecuted, she added.

In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, had also urged Tajikistan to end deadly crackdowns against the Pamiri minority in the GBAO, warning that the use of counter-terrorism operations to quell protests could fuel even wider and more violent trouble. He called on the authorities to engage in constructive and open dialogue with the Pamiri minority and urged the Tajik authorities to immediately implement conflict-prevention measures that meet international human rights standards, including the protection of the Pamiri minority.

Despite the global calls for more peaceful approaches toward the Pamiris, Tajik government has yet to show any change in its policies and actions, putting the future of the Pamiris in a precariously dangerous situation.

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